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Ninjabetic – Sex and diabetes

By Editor
11th February 2016
Latest news, Ninjabetic

Last week, the lovely chirpy folks in the diabetes online community (#doc) took part in the return of the OurDiabetes tweet chat (@OurDiabetes) to discuss a topic that was perhaps a little different from our usual, familiar, cosy chats.

Sex and diabetes.

Admittedly, it was one of the more awkward topics to discuss so openly online, with strangers, or in my case with my mum watching from her own Twitter account, but none the less, the #doc didn’t disappoint. Kudos to everyone who joined in for your openness, humour and great advice!

The topic came about after I received a message one day from someone who was considering getting an insulin pump and wanted to talk about what it’s like to have sex whilst wearing one.

It wasn’t the usual question that pops into my message box but hey, it’s a great opportunity to talk about something that affects most of us. Not just the whole insulin pump and sex thing but the whole diabetes and sex thing in general.

‘Crushing hypos’

I thought about my own knowledge when it comes to diabetes and sex and realised that this page seemed to be missing from the book. You know the giant dusty diabetes book that most of us edit and adapt in our own unique way?

Well there seemed to be a whole chapter missing from it and that chapter was about sex. From what I gathered from the tweet chat answers, not many healthcare professionals seem to talk about this kind of thing with their patients, but it’s something that affects our diabetes so I set up the tweet chat.

The last thing I want to do is think about sex when the only thing on my mind is drinking straight from the tap

What better way to write a chapter than by asking the people who know diabetes best – the people who live with it?

So, does diabetes affect people’s sex lives? I can only speak for myself but my answer is yes. Being realistic, I know that if I experience one of those crushing hypos that completely floors me for most of the day, it would definitely put a stopper to any romantic style stuff from going down.

It’s the same when my blood sugars are high. The last thing I want to do is think about sex when the only thing on my mind is drinking straight from the tap (because getting a glass cuts into my precious re-hydration time) and peeing for England!

As you can tell from my priorities when I’m ‘high’, sex is definitely way down at the bottom of the list. Personally, I think if I’m not going to enjoy it and if I’m going to be distracted, then I’d rather put it on hold for another time.

Then we have the ‘mid-sex maybe hypo’ in which confusion sets in and you’re trying to figure out what it is that’s causing that light headed, on the edge, tingling feeling.

It’s always a tricky one as it may require a quick pit stop to confirm whether or not it’s your blood sugars dropping or if things are just going really well, however it’s a necessary pit stop to take.

I’ve found that over the years this pit stop becomes less of a big deal as my confidence around talking openly about diabetes has grown. The first few times it happens it can be slightly awkward; “uhmm, would you mind if we took a break? I just need to… you know… just… check something”.

People don’t need your life story, they may only need a few snippets of information but what I would say is that honesty is the best policy.

But that soon turned into; “pit stop time”. There’s no sexy way to say it and I wouldn’t recommend trying to make it sexy, it is what it is.

This brings me on to what happens when an actual hypo occurs during sex. Obviously prevention is best, so if possible I try to check my blood sugar before kick-off, but there are times when this doesn’t happen and mid-sex hypos catch me out.

Sex is a form of exercise at the end of the day and sexercise can lower blood sugar levels. This is why having a stash of hypo treatments close to hand is always a good idea.

Pop them by the bed, in your bag or in various places around the house so you know that you can quickly grab a treatment if you need to. Occasionally it might result in the match being called off but it’s better to treat than just carry on regardless.

Sex and diabetes

When it comes to pumping (that’s insulin pumping) there are a few options. Keep your pump attached or take it off. There are patch pumps, such as the omnipod, which require no tubing or there are pumps with tubes, like mine.

Now I’ve not quite mastered the art of taking off my pump discreetly, but that’s mostly because I tend to leave it on. I’m lazy like that. However, it takes only a few seconds to unclip a pump (assuming it’s not a patch pump) and gently let it fall to the floor.

Issues in leaving a pump on come when taking off clothes. If it’s in your pocket then there’s a chance of getting carried away and pulling the cannula out as you pull off your clothes. Then there’s the repositioning issue. It means having to skilfully move your pump as and when you need to move yourself.

My way of dealing with this is to get the longest tubing I can have so that my pump can stay in one place while I’m further away. I can honestly say that I’ve never had an issue with my pump during sex, I barely notice it’s there any more as I’m so comfortable with it and I never feel the need to take it off.

There’s no right or wrong way to do it, there are no rules to follow and it does take courage to discuss sex and diabetes with someone else

And finally, having that conversation with a new partner can be really hard for some people. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, there are no rules to follow and it does take courage to discuss sex and diabetes with someone else.

If I didn’t have diabetes then that conversation wouldn’t need to happen and sex would be more care free, but I do have diabetes and, like anything I do in life, I need to plan.

When I think about how to have that conversation I try to put myself in someone else’s shoes, someone without diabetes. Why would I need to know? How would I like to be told? How would I react? Do I need to know everything?

People don’t need your life story, they may only need a few snippets of information but what I would say is that honesty is the best policy. Take a deep breath, plan what you feel comfortable with telling them and go from there.

A quote from the tweet chat said: “sounds weird but just embrace it! Otherwise diabetes will end up sucking the fun out of everything. So just have fun!”

To read the tweet chat storify to see what others had to say about sex and diabetes, click here.

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